Lebanese government 'making progress' on wage hike as Beirut braces for more protests
The Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil attends cabinet in September 2012 (Daily Star photo)
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Teachers and civil servants are gearing up for a major protest Thursday, when the Cabinet is expected to discuss a divisive plan to boost public sector salaries. Media reports said Saturday that the ministerial committee tasked with studying means to fund the proposed salary scale met Friday and had nearly finalized the necessary financing for the draft law.
Later Saturday, Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil confirmed the reports.
“Discussions on the wage scale proposal have made considerable progress, and the government is moving toward approving it at the next Cabinet session,” Khalil tweeted from his official account over the weekend.
Few details have been released about the draft law, but sources said the wage hikes were likely to be paid in installments over several years, a suggestion already rejected by the Union Coordination Committee, the labor coalition leading the month-old open-ended strike
Protesters in Beirut demanded Saturday that the government devote exclusive attention to studying the draft law during next week’s Cabinet session and then refer it to Parliament.
“The Cabinet session on March 21 should only be held to secure funds for the salary scaly and refer it to Parliament. The Cabinet should scrap from its agenda any topics that could get in the way of the wage hike,” Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, said during a protest outside the Finance Ministry’s revenues department building.
Gharib was referring to discussions on an electoral law, an issue of disagreement among Cabinet members, which could be “used as an alibi to adjourn Cabinet talks.”
“You will be fully responsible for that,” Gharib said, addressing Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Gharib also reiterated that the coalition would not accept funding the wage scale by imposing new taxes on low-income families:
“It is our right to know how the salary scale will be funded. We reject the funding of the scale at the expense of the poor. ... We want it to be funded by the business tycoons.”
Civil servants and teachers have held almost daily protests outside several ministries, Beirut Port and Rafik Hariri International Airport in a bid to pressure the Cabinet to refer the new wage hike to Parliament for ratification.
Public sector employees and teachers have increasingly stopped reporting to work over the past four weeks, paralyzing most government offices.
On Sunday, the UCC said it would not put the strike on hold until the draft bill was passed to Parliament.
“The strike will go on until their sayings translate into actions and the draft law is referred to Parliament on Mar. 21,” a statement said.
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